At tense Ankara news conference, EU rebukes Turkey over detentions

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (C) speaks as Federica Mogherini (L), High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission and EU commissioner for Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn (R) look on during a press conference after their meeting in Ankara, Turkey, 22 November 2018. [Stringer/EPA/EFE]

Top EU officials rebuked Turkey on Thursday (22 November) over its arrests of journalists and academics and the long pre-trial detention of a Kurdish politician, holding a forthright press conference with Turkey’s foreign minister in Ankara that quickly turned tense.

Johannes Hahn, the EU commissioner responsible for relations with countries that aspire to join the bloc, emphasized the importance of political dialogue. But he said the EU was troubled over the arrest of journalists, human rights defenders and civil society activists.

“Criminal and judicial proceedings must be based on the presumption of innocence. Journalists and civil society must be able to do their important work,” Hahn told reporters, standing alongside Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.

Hahn was referring to jailed rights activist Osman Kavala and 13 academics detained last week in an investigation accusing them of a bid to unseat the government through mass protests in 2013.

In a statement released after Thursday’s meetings, the EU said Turkey needed to “take decisive action to reverse the current trend in the rule of law and fundamental rights”.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, also at the news conference, took Turkey to task over the detentions of academics and said she hoped that a detained pro-Kurdish politician, Selahattin Demirtaş, would be released soon.

In a riposte, Çavuşoğlu called on the EU to stop defending “those who are engaging in activities with the aim of removing Turkey’s democratically elected government”.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on Tuesday that Turkey should swiftly process the legal case of Demirtaş, former head of the pro-Kurdish opposition, saying his pre-trial detention had gone on longer than could be justified.

“Turkey should follow the ECHR ruling,” Mogherini said. “There are no double standards here. We have high standards, whether you like it or not.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has dismissed the ECHR ruling on Demirtaş, saying it amounted to support of terrorism.

Lawyers for Demirtaş said on Thursday they would apply simultaneously to Turkey’s Constitutional Court, the ECHR and the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers if Demirtaş is not released immediately.

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